Get ready, this week's edition of Signal to Noise packs a bit of a punch. Not content with our usual format, Bus Station John decided to send over a list of his five favorite female divas (plus a little bonus pick you'll need to scroll through to the end to see). Why all the extras? Well, it boils down to the fact that this Saturday marks the first anniversary of Love Will Fix It, his monthly exploration of late-'70s and early-'80s R&B. And while he might be better known for the retro bathhouse disco of Tubesteak Connection, the following list ought to provide an idea of the breadth of his collection. Read what the man has to say, listen to these tracks, and head over to The Hot Spot this Saturday for a dose of the real thing.
Says Bus Station John:
"These artists take us back to a very different era in dance music, when actual talent was more important than being videogenic. And talent these women have in abundance --- they can SANG! Early in their careers (before the pressure to have crossover appeal diluted the magic of too many R&B performers), we can see them at their best, and witness why they became stars, warranting our attention both on and off the dance floor. These are uniquely gifted soul sisters, whose voices stand the test of time (and defy the insult to our intelligence that is AutoTune). I've selected from each a hit as well as a lesser-known track."
5. Stephanie Mills was my first love. As a young queen, I wore out the original cast album of The Wiz -- then fell further under the spell of her enchanting, bell-like tones as she moved from Broadway into a major R&B career.
Here, she unwittingly-yet-charmingly barges into the rambles in Central Park,
NYC's notorious gay cruising-grounds-of-yore, where I'm sure she ran into more than a few fans."Never Knew Love Like This Before," indeed!
"Don't Stop Dancin," is an effusive, uptempo gospel-tinged disco number seasoned with one of my favorite period sound effects: a crowd in the background "havin' a par-tay."
4. Chaka Khan. Nobody soars like miss Chaka (when she's not busy burning us down with her slower jams). I couldn't wait to get my hands on the next Rufus album back in "the day" -- I can still hear the crinkle of the shrink-wrap (ask Grandpa what I'm talking about, kids)!
"Do You Love What You Feel," always gets a party rolling. The band's typically tight musicianship really shines under the guidance of legendary producer Quincy Jones.
"We Can Work It Out," is an unexpected thrill ride from one of Ms. Khan's best solo albums, 1981's What Cha' Gonna Do For Me.
3. Evelyn "Champagne" King. Among the talents listed here, I peg "bubbles" as the most versatile; whether she's going hard, funky and deep, or purring like a kitten, this lady delivers consistently.
"I'm In Love" always takes me back to one of the haunts of my youth, Mildred's Palace, an all-ages gay club in Portland, Oregon (before my tumbling curls tumbled from my scalp to my chin!) Evelyn's happy, earnest vocal combined with producer Kashif's then ground-breaking fusion of synths with live instrumentation still fills dance floors three decades later. Plus: handclaps!
"I Can't Take It." A killer bassline and a deeper vocal register drive this lil' monster.